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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

NIFA Centers of Excellence

NIFA Centers of Excellence

What is a Center of Excellence?

A Center of Excellence (COE) in food and agricultural research, extension, and education is a grantee whose application was not only found to be highly meritorious by a peer panel, but met additional criteria (see below) to receive the designation. This designation is specific to a grant application. 

What criteria must be met to be designated as a COE?

To be designated as a COE, applicants must justify the following as it relates to the implementation of the proposed research and/or extension activity outlined in their application:

  • The ability of the COE to ensure coordination and cost effectiveness by reducing unnecessarily duplicative efforts regarding research, teaching, and extension.
  • In addition to any applicable matching requirements, the ability of the COE to leverage available resources by using public-private partnerships among agricultural industry groups, institutions of higher education, and the federal government. Resources leveraged should be commensurate with the size of the award.
  • The planned scope and capability of the COE to implement teaching initiatives to increase awareness and effectively disseminate solutions to target audiences through extension activities
  • The ability or capacity of the COE to increase the economic returns to rural communities by identifying, attracting, and directing funds to high priority agricultural issues.
  • Additionally, where practicable (not required), COE applicants should describe proposed efforts to improve teaching capacity and infrastructure at colleges and universities (including land-grant colleges and universities, cooperating forestry schools, certified Non-Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture, and schools of veterinary medicine. 

Is there funding set aside for COEs?

No. There is no specific budget to fund COEs. 

Does an application that includes a COE receive priority funding?

Yes, NIFA will effectively use the COE prioritization as a “tie breaker.”  When reviewing an application, reviewers will look at the COE criteria and give it a “yay” (meets the criteria) or “nay” (does not meet the criteria.)   After that determination is made, there is no privilege or priority given to Centers of Excellence unless there is a tie in the initial panel review.  In instances where an application requesting COE designation is found to be equally meritorious with applications of non-COE, based on peer review, selection for funding will be weighed in favor of applicants meeting the COE criteria. 

How do I create a COE?

Requesting the COE designation in an application does not create a COE. The criteria (see above) that makes a COE must already be in place for the proposed research. USDA’s recognition is just that – a recognition.  Including it in your proposal doesn’t create a COE, it simply recognizes that a COE already exists. The justification in the proposal needs to show that a Center of Excellence already exists for the research/extension area covered by the application.  It is not intended to show that there is potential for a Center of Excellence. The reviewers are not evaluating your ability to be a CoE, but evaluating what already exists. 

How do I show that I have the “ability to leverage available resources”? Is that like matching funds?

In the justification for the COE, the leveraged funding (which is a key element) should not be quantified. It is not match. USDA does not want to see it presented as match.  They want to see that the Center is being supported by other sources of funding and that USDA’s funding will be a part of a larger supported program.   The leveraged funding should not be included in the budget narrative or the budget. 

Do I get extra space in my narrative to present the COE justification?

There is no extra space given to provide the COE justification. The page limit is not increased. This is a balancing act that the PI must decide upon.   Is using the narrative space to justify and request the COE designation, and the potential value of that, worth more than spending that space describing the research or extension activities of the application?  Will the recognition as a COE be a feather in the researcher’s cap that could then be shown to other potential funders? Would the PI get other benefit from having his project recognized as a COE? 

Someone else at OSU already is a COE.  Can I use that as my justification, since the COE already exists?

No. The  COE designation applies to this project/research only. Not to the department or the University or the PI; it applies only to the activities funded by the proposed grant.


Other information on Centers of Excellence is available at:


Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078